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Casey Anthony trial: bug expert says body couldn't have been in trunk

The defense in the Casey Anthony trial called an expert who said the lack of bugs in Anthony's car suggests that she could not have hidden a body there for days.

By Staff writer / June 17, 2011

Casey Anthony trial: Dr. Tim Huntington, forensic entomologist, testifies during the murder trial of Casey Anthony at the Orange County Courthouse, Friday, in Orlando, Fla.

Red Huber/AP

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A forensic expert called by the defense in the Casey Anthony murder trial testified on Friday that he found no evidence to suggest that 2-year-old Caylee Anthony’s dead body had been hidden and began to decompose in the trunk of her mother’s car.

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Timothy Huntington, an expert in the role of insects in the decomposition of human bodies, said he disagreed with the government’s theory that Ms. Anthony kept her daughter’s corpse in her car trunk for several days in 90-degree summer heat before dumping it in a wooded area not far from the family home.

“The evidence doesn’t make sense anyway you look at it to say there was a body in the trunk,” Dr. Huntington said.

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He said a dead body in the trunk would have attracted hundreds or thousands of flies that would have found their way to the decomposing body but failed to find their way back out of the car. Most of those flies would have died and remained visible in the trunk and throughout the passenger compartment of the car, he said.

Only a relatively small number of insects were found in the car. Huntington said they were associated with a bag of trash and were not the type of flies attracted in the initial stages of decomposition.

Huntington is the second forensic entomologist called to testify in the trial. Last Saturday, Neal Haskell testified during the government’s case that Caylee’s body could have been in the trunk of the car for three to five days.

He said the absence of large numbers of adult flies found in the car could have been because the body was contained in two plastic garbage bags.

Caylee’s skeletal remains were discovered in December 2008, six months after her disappearance. Her mother is charged with first-degree murder and faces the death penalty if convicted.

The issue of Caylee’s alleged presence in the car is a linchpin of the government’s case. Prosecutors are seeking to connect the toddler’s dead body to her mother on the theory that Anthony was the only person with access to her car.

During a blistering cross-examination, Assistant State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton sought to discredit Huntington’s testimony by emphasizing that Casey Anthony’s car contained a strong odor in the summer of 2008. Some witnesses have identified it as the distinctive stench of human decomposition.

Defense attorneys say the odor was a result of Anthony leaving a bag of garbage in the trunk of her car for an extended period in June 2008.

Huntington said he first examined the car two years later in July 2010.

“It still smelled, didn’t it,” Ashton asked.

“There was a smell in the trunk, yes,” Huntington agreed. He added that the smell could have been caused by the bag of garbage.

“When has garbage stunk up a car for two years,” Ashton shot back.

Huntington said he didn’t know. “I’ve never left garbage in a car for a week,” he said.

The heated exchange between the aggressive prosecutor and the defense witness was one of many during Huntington’s day-long testimony. Some analysts believe Mr. Ashton helped the prosecution by battering away at Huntington, but others suggest Ashton’s attack-dog tactics may backfire by alienating individual jurors.

Overall, Huntington managed to point up a major inconsistency in the state’s case. The garbage bags containing the body would have to be tightly sealed, but even then a female fly can smell a food source several miles away, Huntington said.

The prosecutor wondered aloud: “Why can’t a trash bag sealed and wrapped keep bugs out? Isn’t that why we buy bags to keep bugs out of trash?”

Huntington replied: “If the smells can get out of a bag, that indicates that it is not air tight.”

Prosecutors were seeking to have it both ways. The car reeks of the stench of human decomposition, they suggest, but not enough to attract flies capable of detecting parts per billion traces of the scent of a human corpse.
The trial is set to continue Saturday morning.

IN PICTURES: Photos of the day

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